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Vincentian women to make history

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Fri, Feb 10. 2012

History will be made in St. Vincent and the Grenadines next month with the holding of a National Women’s Congress. The Congress is being organised by the National Council of Women (NCW), the umbrella body of women’s organisations in SVG, with the support of the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.{{more}}

It is fitting that this ground-breaking event will be held in the month of March, for internationally, March is known as the month in which International Women’s Day (March 8) is celebrated. Though it will be held two weeks after the international commemoration, it will dovetail nicely with the IWD activities. The organisation of the Congress marks a qualitative step forward for Vincentian women. Over the years, there have been several conferences and consultations for women, based either on specific issues or for particular interest groups. But never has such a venture been attempted on this broad, national scale. The organisers must be complimented for this initiative.

Both the theme of the Congress, “Women rising: Crisis and Response, Women as Agents of Change” and the objectives spelt out – the role of women in national development; providing a forum for the voices of women on all the issues affecting them; and, building national solidarity among women – make it clear that the intention is to lay the foundation for a solid platform on which women and gender issues can be addressed.

Surprisingly, there are some who fail to appreciate the relevance of a Women’s Congress and even question its validity. Perhaps the shift in emphasis in recent years from Women’s Affairs to Gender Affairs and the problems plaguing young men in particular, may have created the mistaken impression that there is no longer any need to focus on matters concerning women. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. While women in our society have made significant advances over the years, there are still fundamental barriers to them achieving gender equity. The age-old system of discrimination, now more insidious, still exists.

The participation of women in politics is perhaps the best example. Women are by far the most effective mobilisers, campaigners and fund-raisers for political parties, but in the end, the ratio of their participation in decision-making at the highest level is heavily skewed against them. For example, in our parliament, there is only one female elected member and 4 of the 23 persons (including the Speaker and Attorney General).

This is not peculiar to our country, however. Indeed, SVG has a higher average than most other countries, being ranked 68th of 136 countries by the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) for women’s representation in politics. Of the 44,055 parliamentarians worldwide, the gender composition is less than 20 per cent (19.8%) women The lowest level of representation is in Arab countries(12.2%) and the Pacific (15.2%). The Americas as a whole has the highest average, 22%, with Cuba leading the way, with almost double the hemispheric average, 43.2 per cent of its parliamentarians being women.

Additionally, the continuing levels of domestic violence and assault on women, sexual molestation and exploitation and the oppression of millions of women around the globe in virtual conditions of slavery, tell their own story. Things may not be as bad here as in many other countries, but that is no excuse for complacency. The ills of our society must be exposed and confronted. Let the women speak.

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